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VOL. 126 | NO. 32 | Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Susan Drake

Creativity Tops MBA


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Over the past 10 years, the IBM Institute for Business Value and IBM Strategy and Change has conducted four biennial Global CEO Study projects. The latest installment – titled Capitalizing on Complexity – surveyed about 1,500 CEOs in 60 countries and 33 industries. The topic they cited consistently as most important and challenging has been the increasing complexity of business. Well, no surprise there, as the word “global” has become integral in the dictionary of just about every business with the possible exception of my vet.

Here’s what I find most meaningful and encouraging: Creativity is the leadership quality that those CEOs consider most vital in this complex environment. The study says that standout companies “take more calculated risks, find new ideas, and keep innovating in how they lead and communicate.” And, at last, I don’t think they’re just giving lip service to seeking innovators. Bravo.

In fact, the gold standard MBA that has become ubiquitous among preferred job candidates has come under scrutiny. While most top firms recruit from MBA programs, the CEOs question whether the schools actually prepare new leaders for the task of finding creative solutions to competing.

So how do we practice these highly valued skills? I could write a book … but here are a few tips.

Information is power, and if there’s anything we have a lot of these days, it’s information. Our biggest challenge may be managing all the information we have. Identify a few key sources that you can use as touchstones for your industry and your function, and then review them regularly. But add to the list one or two resources that are outside your normal channels. For example, if you’re a marketing pro, add an operations trade magazine or blog to your reading list for a totally different perspective.

Use Survey Monkey or Zoomerang to poll your LinkedIn buddies about ideas for risk taking within a company or about a brainstorm you may have. Studies show that 66 percent of the users on LinkedIn are decision makers, which makes them good sources for opinions. (You ARE on LinkedIn, aren’t you?)

When you have an idea to break the mold in your company, remember that just because your boss or your boss’s boss says change is good, you still have to sell the idea. Change is threatening to a minimum of half the people involved, so positioning your information is essential. Deliver the proposal with all the pros and cons, supporting research and solid conclusions about positive outcomes. Be enthusiastic without overselling. Let people digest your information and come to the party at their own pace.

Keep learning from others. Network locally, but also watch for seminars where you can recharge your batteries by talking with other professionals who face similar challenges. Going to the sessions is important, but the best value usually comes from talking with your peers about how they’re dealing with complexity and creativity.

Susan Drake is the President of Spellbinders Internal and External Marketing. Contact her at susand@spellbindersinc.com.

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